Advice from a RockStar Sales Rep

By Carolyn Edlund

Meryl Hooker is a nationally recognized award-winning sales rep, writer, speaker and all-around sales rockstar, and co-author of the book Pushing the Envelope.


Meryl Hooker

Author and Salesperson Meryl Hooker


Tell me what your company does . . . in one sentence.

When I consult with companies that want help boosting their sales, this is always my first question. I recently met with a few first-time exhibitors at this year’s National Stationery Show. Besides the main goal of making sales, they all wanted to hire sales reps too. I started with the kick-off question, and here are some of the responses I received:

“I make letterpress cards that are fun and edgy, but sometimes whimsical, and make people feel good. And I use glitter sometimes, too.”

“I have something for everybody- recipe cards, children’s birthday, and some handmade collage pieces.”

“Well, my cards are whimsical and humorous, but I like to tackle tough situations like death and divorce.”

See how convoluted these are? If you cannot describe what you do in an intriguing, compelling sentence, you do not have a clear focus for your business. Without a clear focus for your business, how do you formulate a clear message in your advertising or marketing? How about your sales pitch to potential reps and buyers? As artists and business owners, we often want to make something for everybody in the hopes of increasing our sales, but the result is usually just confused potential customers.

So how do your achieve this magic focus? By developing a USP. Your USP is your Unique Selling Position or your Unique Selling Proposition. It is what sets your product apart from the competition and gives people a reason to buy your product. A USP defines your mission, your purpose and your identity as a manufacturer. While it is not quite a magical love potion that makes customers and reps fall for you, it is pretty close. An important part of product development (and sales, in general) is giving people a reason to buy from you, beyond just your charm and good looks.

Here are five steps you can take to develop your own USP.

1. What problem does your product solve or what do you make easier for your customer?

A consumer purchases a washing machine because it helps them get the laundry done faster. Greeting cards allow people to express emotions they might not know how to on their own.  How does your product help the purchaser?

2. What are the benefits of your product?

Benefits are aspects of a product that answer the “What’s in it for me” question. Make a list of all the benefits of your product and then focus on the most prominent ones.

3. What are the features of your product?

Features are facts about your products. Are your products made from recycled or repurposed items? Are the beads in your necklaces crafted by stay-at-home moms?

4. Who is your target audience (teens, moms, sports enthusiasts)?

You may want everyone to purchase your products, but seriously, are your products really for everyone?

5. What does your product do that similar products do not, or, why is yours better?

If you are the 15th company selling flower photography note cards, then you’d better have a compelling reason that buyers should purchase your cards. For the record, “because I made them” doesn’t cut it.

You should be able to get your USP down to one or two sentences. It is similar to having a business mission statement. The difference is a USP is targeted toward the actual product as opposed to what actions you are going to engage in.

Take a look around at other companies that sell similar products to yours, or even at other products you may already be purchasing. Try to identify those companies’ USPs and see how they are using it to develop their brand. Start with major, nationally distributed products since their USPs are easy to identify. Then, look at some smaller companies that you will not find in a big box store. How does your USP compare?Is it easy to identify? Is it easy to remember?

One way or another, you are going to need a USP. Otherwise, you are just another card/trinket/gadget competing for a buyer’s attention.  Your USP may evolve as your line develops. In fact, it may completely change at some point. The important thing is to have a clear sense of what your product is and your specific target audience.

Now, go sell something!


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  1. Sarah Painter says

    Does this really work with art? I sell my paintings, here is how I would answer your questions:
    1. None.
    2. No benefit – looks nice, but a benefit?
    3. Features? It is a painting. Paintings have features?
    4. Target audience: People that like art and want to spend the money to own it.
    5. Similar products; why is mine better? All art is different, everyone has a different reason for liking different art.

    People either like the art or they don’t. Then they decide if they like it enough to spend the money I am asking for it.

  2. Sarah,

    You have a very good question, which deserves a good answer. Notice that Meryl is a sales rep for greeting card lines,other paper lines and gifts. These are “products” (as she mentions) which are made in multiples of thousands and sold in bulk in the wholesale marketplace.

    Artists and craftspeople often use their designs on “mass-produced” items which need to fit into sales channels. If for example, you decided to make a card line from your paintings, they could be mass-produced and you would have a product line. At that point, if you read this article, it would pertain more to your situation and make more sense to you.

    Since it appears that you paint one-of-a-kind paintings, it might be more appropriate for you to investigate other Artsy Shark articles such as:

    “How to Sell Your Work in New York Galleries”
    “How to Sell Your Work to Art Publishers”
    “The Wow Factor: Art in a Corporate Environment”
    or even
    “Is Art Licensing Right for You?”

    I wish you the best with your art sales and your career!

  3. Hey Sarah,

    I’d like to echo everything that Carolyn says above. The world of unique, one of a kind art work is different from the mass produced product for retail world. The criteria and development process are not the same.

    The articles references are super and definitely much more suited for the work you’re doing.

    Thanks for your comment. Best of luck with your work.

  4. Hi, this article would be even more helpful if it included a couple of examples of successful USPs or links to where to find them.

    I thought the whimsical, humorous approach to death and divorce sounded interesting–that USP would get my attention.

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